RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – As Virginians head to the polls on Super Tuesday to decide who gets 124 delegates up for grabs in the Democratic primary, a two-man race is emerging between the top-polling candidates.
While former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and billionaire businessman Mike Bloomberg could each win a share of delegates, Biden and Sanders stood out in exit interviews conducted by Courthouse News.
Biden has struggled throughout most of the 2020 nominating contest but his big win in South Carolina over the weekend led to numerous endorsements from former opponents and even more from Virginia-based politicians. Among the locals who threw their hat behind the former vice president was U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, the VP candidate in 2016, as well as former Governor Terry McAuliffe and several members of Congress.
Sanders, meanwhile, drew thousands to events in Richmond and Fairfax City over the past week. The Vermont senator pulled in about 35% of the votes in his 2016 race against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and he’s worked hard to court the more diverse electorate that now calls the Washington, D.C. suburbs home.
Warren has also campaigned in the state, and suburban supporters, particularly women, who helped drive the 2017 and 2018 Democratic “blue wave” in Virginia could help tip the Massachusetts senator into the 15% threshold needed to collect at least some of the allocated delegates.
Finally, Bloomberg has been throwing millions into advertising in Virginia. He also collected some endorsements ahead of Tuesday’s race, though a crowd of Democratic fundraisers at the state party’s annual Gala last month gave the businessman a tepid response at best.
But elections are about the voters, and for Richmond physical therapist Christina Withers, who voted for Sanders, it was about her kids’ future.
“I hope our kids can live and prosper in a safe, environmentally conscious society,” she said, noting she was originally rooting for Warren but made the more “strategic” second choice with Sanders.
“I felt like I was supposed to vote how I feel about the issues, strategically or with my heart and the issues, so I went with the issues,” Withers added.
For Tim Thibodeau, another Richmond resident who said he voted for Biden, the choice was all about beating President Donald Trump in November.
“Anything but Trump,” he said, noting Biden’s work under former President Barack Obama helped cement his support. “Biden under Obama, it’s a logical jump.”
Up in Alexandria, one of the diverse D.C. suburbs Sanders hopes to win, customer service worker Yassine Gharife threw his support behind the democratic socialist.
“We are in need of a leader of the people and not just a politician that wants to hold the presidential seat,” he said in an interview outside his polling place.
Sanders also impressed 17-year-old Ezriella Beniam. The Alexandria high school student said the economy was her top priority, even if her preferred candidate was outside the mainstream of traditional economic thought.
“I don’t think [Sanders] will attract moderates, by any means, but I think he’s different,” she said after voting at Walt Whitman Middle School. “The idea of something new is more exciting to me.”
Meanwhile, at a Virginia Beach polling location, Earlin Avent Moore Jr. said he pulled the lever for Biden. The local accountant said his top priority was beating Trump, and while he was debating between Biden and Bloomberg, he saw the former vice president’s success in South Carolina as a sign of momentum.
“I felt, well, I better get on the bandwagon,” the South Carolina native said. “Go GameCocks!”
Tonya Dambrosio, another Virginia Beach accountant, said she supported Sanders. Naming health care as her top concern, she said her family’s ongoing struggles with affording treatment is paramount.
“My husband is on disability right now and he’s fighting to get health care for over a year,” she said. “I would say [the candidates] definitely need to look into that.”
Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington, said the last-minute competitor dropouts and endorsements have probably helped Biden the most leading up to Tuesday’s vote, but as long as Bloomberg is still on the ballot, the billionaire could split the moderate vote.
“Bloomberg is a big question mark, not just in Virginia but around the country,” he said in a phone interview. “How much has he gotten for the hundreds of millions of dollars in advance of Super Tuesday? We won’t know for a few more hours.”
Polls close in Virginia at 7 p.m. Eastern time.